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Ilich was instrumental in Caring Place becoming a reality

By Don Fennell

Published 1:37 PDT, Thu May 30, 2019

Like the Richmond Caring Place, for which he strongly advocated and supported, Milan Ilich effected positive change.

A 2010 recipient of the province’s highest honour, the Order of B.C., Ilich’s philanthropic efforts extended throughout the city in which he resided, and beyond.

Ilich, who passed away at the age of 76 in June 2011, was the first person to donate to the vision of constructing a building to house all of the city’s social service agencies, recalls Louise Young, who was part of the organizing committee’s seven-year venture.

“Milan was the major donor and very instrumental in helping the project advance,” says Young, a retired administrator and community advocate who also served as chair of the project.

“We wanted to name the building after him, but he wouldn’t allow it.”

Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2019, Caring Place is the culmination of a lengthy path that featured many subplots.

“At the very beginning (in 1994), a group of Richmond business people got together and decided they were going to build (a facility) for Richmond health and social service organizations,” remembers Young, who wasn’t yet part of the initiative. “It was going to be at the northeast corner of No. 3 and Blundell roads, where a developer was going to put in a strip mall. But it was zoned residential and when the city refused to rezone that property the whole group resigned except for Francis Clark (who was herself a well-known community activist, and a voice for those with disabilities).”

When Clark then brought together the agencies themselves, Young stepped up to help take the project forward.

But there were still more questions than answers.

“There was exactly $100 in the bank at the time, but we were meeting with the city including Ron Mann, head of planning at the time, and then-Coun. Bob McMath, who was a real support of the whole idea,” says Young.

The project took a big step when the city provided the group with a grant for a program and cost study, to determine where a building should be built and what space requirements were needed.

Eventually, the site where Caring Place is located at the corner of Granville Avenue and Minoru Boulevard was selected. At the time, there were homes on the site which was owned by the city and housed several of the agencies now in Caring Place.

One of the criteria for the building was that it had to be in the City Centre and there was good public access, Young says. The site met both requirements.

But then came another snag, Young says.

“We thought we’d raised the money to build the building, but we didn’t have charitable tax status going into a $5.2 million capital campaign,” she explains.

That’s when Ilich offered the seed funding needed, and the group’s fundraising efforts picked up momentum with the addition of prominent figures like former BC Hydro commissioner John McIntyre among others.

Khalil Sharif, at the time a Richmond Secondary student and now chief executive officer of the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, also played a key role in attracting other prominent individuals to join the efforts.

Reflecting back on the journey, Young says “it really brought the community together.”

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